It needs no introduction that the events following Kenya’s recent elections, as held on the 11th of August 2017, provide us with a lot of lessons to ponder about as we move forward both as a nation and the African continent at large. These elections are the sixth multi-party elections following the repeal of Section 2A of the Kenyan constitution in 1991, a section that had turned Kenya into a one party state where the then KANU aka chama cha baba na mama was the one and only party. The repeal was not smooth as the post 1990s generations who might be oblivious of the past history of this nascent country would imagine. It was through a strong union of selfless politicians, a cohesive and focused civil society and members of the clergy bound not by the Sunday tithes from their congregants but believers in sanctity of human life, respect for individual rights and recognition of personal freedoms.
While every electioneering period has been envisioned as providing an opportunity for the real third liberation for the country, many times the dream for attainment of sound leadership and a people centered representation, constitutionalism and fidelity to the electorate has always aborted and either proved to be a pipe dream or a mirage chased by a people eager to embolden corruption and maladministration. It is this reality that has always made the elections a high stake affair between self branded reformers and ‘social democrats’ versus the ardent status quo non-apologists hell-bent on retaining power for themselves. This has reproduced itself into an “us versus them” contest that has always bordered on splitting the country into two spheres. The August 2017 therefore was no different in terms of political realignments and what seemed to be at stake. However, it seemed to be the last and only realistic chance to bring down what the opposition saw as a leadership divorced from the people and threatening to alienate them even further.
Therefore, when the election results were announced in favor of the incumbent, the opposition found it hard to walk the usual path of “accept and move on”. The risk involved was the threat of massive rise in voter apathy and the cementing of political arrogance on the side of the victors. The country was treated to a spectacle of militarized internal security with several loses of lives yet to be accounted for clearly. It is under this cloud of uncertainty and fragility of the state that the opposition led by Raila Amolo Odinga took the most formidable and prudent step of presenting their petition in the Supreme Court. After a n open court process that the ruling was delivered in favor of the petitioner sending half of the country into a frenzy and getting the entire world talking. Once again, Kenya arrested the attention of the entire globe away from the undisputed prowess in long distance running the country seems to be associated with outside its national borders.
However, to keen observers, the question that lingers is what this ruling means for Kenya and Africa at large. One is that for Kenya, the ruling restores confidence in the institutions of governance that have constantly been doubted and hindered by the executive arm. Where one independent body that is the electoral commission failed to act independently and adhere t the spirit and letter of the constitution, another institution that is the judiciary has played its
role without fear and favor to ensure that Kenya keeps her flame burning as a beacon of hope in Africa. The judges demonstrated that a country’s reform path has to trace its foundations in the constitution and embracing constitutionalism. Secondly for Kenya is that the ruling exposes the rot in society and calls upon the country to go back to the drawing board and remind itself of the tenets of democracy, representation and universal suffrage by stating clearly that elections are not an event that ends with the casting of the ballot. Rather, it is a process that starts way before the actual ballot casting (conduct of candidates) and ends by strictly making that vote count in a manner that is transparent, credible, verifiable and justifiable without resorting to jargons borrowed from the dead Latin language. Thirdly, it also proves that localized mechanisms can still work. What happened in the Kenyan Supreme Court is ground breaking and lays itself bare to the whole world especially the powers that seek to patronize those who have perpetually been characterized as borrowers and implementers incapable of inventing and innovating. A people and mostly Africans must start believing that they can only be the solution to their problems. They should work at reinforcing their institutions first by progressive constitutions and then by adhering to the rule of law and justice for all.
As for Africa, Kenya provides a breath of fresh air into the ramshackle engine that is African politics and governance. The ruling must have sent the demagogues, manipulators of elections and presidents for life, all across the entire continent into catching a cold for the days of impunity and draconian leadership are long coming to the end soon. It is time for Africa to allow itself be reborn by taking matters in her won hands and existing for the better of herself and others. Whatever happens in Kenya after this ruling does not matter much to a neutral observer. What matters is the lessons learnt from the momentous ruling loaded with meaning and promise. A ruling that indeed seems and certainly so to be the long sought after third liberation for the country that Kenya wants to be and become. Lets us go Kenya.
The Writer is a PhD Candidate at Technische Universitat Darmstadt in Germany specializing in the History of Technology—He is also a lecturer at Maseno university.